by Christi Tuit, Laura DeJong, and Justine Keuning-LaFrence
As a school counselor, an ELA teacher, and a school librarian, we have always used books to help students connect to fictional characters in order to learn things about themselves. We have found that stories can help us to see truths that are hard to face and to broaden our worldviews so that we can connect to others who may have different experiences than we have. With this in mind, we want to share some books that we think are important for helping our students understand what growing up in other cultures is like in order to help prepare them to be global citizens.
Books about Children Who Are Refugees
When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
A graphic novel released in 2020 for mid-level readers, this is a biography of Omar Mohamed, who was born in Somalia and fled to Kenya with his younger brother at the age of four when soldiers came to his family’s farm, killed his father, and destroyed their village. The story tells about what life is like as a refugee child—the waiting, the uncertainty, the struggle for education, and the persistence and hope that it takes to thrive. CT
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
This novel in verse was released in 2019 and is appropriate for fourth through eighth grade students. It is the story of Jude, a Syrian girl who leaves her father and brother behind to move to Cincinnati and live with her mother’s relatives. We see her experience culture shock and struggle to adapt to a new way of doing school in a new language and in a place where everything feels too fast and too loud. In Jude’s words, “I am learning how to be sad and happy at the same time” (49). It is a lovely story that will help students understand a bit of the conflict in Syria and its impact on real people in an accessible way. CT
Books Addressing Timely Topics
Chirp by Kate Messner
Chirp was released in 2020 and addresses the #MeToo experience in an age-appropriate way by wrapping it in a mystery. The novel follows Mia, a middle-school girl who moves to Vermont to be closer to her beloved Gram. As Mia makes new friends, tries new activities, and tries to help Gram save her struggling cricket farm, Mia and her friends learn to find their voices when they are being belittled as girls and to trust their instincts and speak up when someone makes them feel uncomfortable. CT
Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson
Released in 2018 for seventh grade readers and up, this Newbery Honor book introduces Jade, an African American high schooler who gets up early every morning to take the city bus out of her low-income neighborhood and away from her friends to attend a private school where she must figure out how to be herself in a predominantly white, upper-class school. This book should be required reading for all schools so that students who have grown up with privilege catch a small glimpse of what life is like for people around them with less power. CT
Lupe Wong Won’t Dance by Donna Barba Higuera
Christi Tuit, who is the school counselor at Hudsonville Christian and once worked at the children’s bookstore Pooh’s Corner, lets her husband rope her into things like writing book reviews for the CEJ. Laura, Justine, and Christi can be found eating a socially distanced lunch together on Thursdays when they discuss life and share all things related to books.
Laura DeJong rarely goes anywhere without a young adult book in hand. As one of the middle-school librarians at Hudsonville Christian Middle School, she loves discovering new books and authors and firmly believes that books can open hearts and minds to the whole world and beyond.
Justine Keuning-LaFrence owns way too many book-themed T-shirts and possibly too many books. She is also a firm believer in the power of picture books, no matter how old you are. Justine spends her days getting books into the hands of middle schoolers as the ELAII teacher at Hudsonville Christian Middle School.